Transitioning An Older Adult Away From Driving – Tips For Loved Ones to Successfully Navigate This Issue 

Transitioning a parent away from driving can be a difficult conversation, but a necessary moment for many of us. The tips in this article can help.

The time has come. You’ve been keeping a watchful eye on your parent as they age while they’ve continued to drive. You understand and respect how important driving is to their sense of independence, and you vowed to support them in it as long as possible. 

But, lately, you’ve become increasingly concerned about their ability to safely and effectively drive themselves where they need to go. 

You’re well aware that driving involves much more than simply staying between the lines. 

It also requires—

  • Sharp reasoning skills, necessary to make quick decisions. 
  • Visual acuity, to see road signs, and judge proximity to other vehicles and obstacles. 
  • Being able to recall and follow directions. 
  • Focused attention skills, and the ability to not become distracted. 
  • Intact and responsive motor skills, as it involves many intricate, coordinated movements. 
  • Intact processing speed, to respond quickly and effectively. 

Maintaining these skills can become challenging as our brains and bodies age—making them increasingly difficult for many older adults.

Still, the decision to give up driving is complex, and one that’s often made later than is optimal. 

That’s partly because we’re culturally conditioned to strongly associate our independence with our ability to drive. It’s often treated more as a right than a privilege in our society. 

As a result, giving up driving becomes akin to handing over their independence on a platter in the minds of many. And they struggle to do it. 

If you recognize this struggle in your loved one—you’ve come to the right place. 

This article will focus on helping you recognize when the time has come to transition your loved one away from driving. We’ll also offer you some tips and strategies to navigate this transition, in the hopes that it can be a positive experience for everyone involved. 

Let’s start by recognizing the clear signs that it is time to steer your loved one away from driving—for their own safety as well as others’. 

What Are the Signs My Loved One Should No Longer Be Driving? 

signs that someone should no longer be driving

If your loved one is experiencing cognitive changes and challenges, but they continue to drive—this can quickly become a risky situation for everyone involved. 

Dementia is an issue that impacts millions of older Americans, and it can cause challenges with memory, reasoning, judgment, coordination, and insight. These are crucial competencies when it comes to driving, and all that goes along with this complex activity. 

While it’s true that some drivers with mild stage dementia can still be safe behind the wheel—dementia is a progressive issue that’s characterized by ongoing cognitive changes.

That’s why it’s smart to be proactive and forward-thinking when dealing with dementia and the issues it presents. If you can anticipate dementia’s progression, you can more effectively stay ahead of it—implementing plans, strategies and systems before they’re an absolute necessity. 

When it comes to driving and your loved one with dementia—a day will arrive when they will no longer be safe to drive. It’s beneficial to have conversations about this and a plan in place for when this time comes. 

Here are some driving behavior warning signs to look out for, to help you assess if your loved one is at risk behind the wheel—

  • They tend to “ride the brake”
  • They show reduced confidence in their driving abilities 
  • They signal incorrectly
  • They become confused (for example, when entering or exiting the highway) 
  • They fail to notice and follow traffic signs and signals
  • They become easily distracted 
  • They lose their way
  • They show lack of judgment in making turns and other common maneuvers
  • They’ve had several near misses, or even outright accidents 
  • They struggle to park or remain in their own lane 
  • They show poor awareness of what’s around them 

These behaviors are all concerning and should be noted in your loved one. A person should stop driving immediately, however, if they experience any of the following—

  • They confuse the gas and brake pedals 
  • They fail to stop at a red light or stop sign 
  • They drive in the wrong lane or direction
  • They stop in traffic for no apparent reason
  • They cause a serious accident 

Hopefully, all these issues can be avoided by helping your loved one recognize and accept it’s time to plan for alternative transportation before any of these serious consequences arise. 

Of course, when you witness some of these changes in real life, they can appear less cut and dry. Additionally, emotions will factor into your decision process, as your loved one likely has a strong opinion about their ability to continue driving. 

Where can you turn if you’re not sure whether your loved one is safe to drive, or if they need convincing that driving might no longer be the safest choice? 

Thankfully, there are helpful resources available to assist you in navigating this situation. 

Let’s explore some info and resources to help you and your loved one during this time. 

What Resources Exist to Help Transition My Loved One from Driving? 

resources to help transition older adult away from driving

If your loved one is experiencing cognitive changes or decline—this can also impact their judgment about when it’s the right time to step away from driving. 

Couple this with the fact that many adults conflate their sense of independence with their ability to drive, and the issue becomes more complicated and emotionally fraught to unpack. 

If you need support in convincing your older loved one they’re no longer safe behind the wheel, you’re not alone. There are several helpful resources to assist you in your mission. 

Here’s a comprehensive guidebook, created through a partnership between The Hartford Center for Mature Market Excellence®, the MIT AgeLab, and the American Occupational Therapy Association. 

It was developed to help older adults and their loved ones assess driving safety, and learn about comprehensive driving evaluation services available to assist with this decision making process. 

When the time comes, your loved one may be concerned that ceasing driving will negatively impact their independence and quality of life. After all, in order to live a healthy, full, engaged life, they need to be able to travel to appointments and social engagements when needed. 

Thankfully, there are many options available for older adults who need transportation assistance and support. You can check out our recent article, all about alternative transportation options for older adults. It contains lots of great info and resources to help you and your loved one find the best alternative transportation options in your area. 

Let’s face it—making the decision for your loved one not to drive anymore will involve some heart-to-heart conversations about this issue, as well as careful planning about what this transition will look like for everyone involved. 

These discussions are important, but can be difficult to have. You also may struggle to know when or how to open the lines of communication with your loved one. 

How Can I Talk to My Loved One About Stopping Driving? 

talking to your parents about driving

While you may wish to avoid ever having this difficult conversation with your loved one—it’s an important one to have. 

It’s vital to involve your loved one in any dialogue about their wants and needs, whenever possible. Your loved one may disagree with your thoughts on the matter, but seeking to maintain open lines of communication with them is worthwhile.

For many, giving up driving involves a measure of grief. Discussing your thoughts and concerns with your loved one can help them work through the grieving process around relinquishing their car keys. Hopefully, you can help them realize this is the best choice for everyone. 

Still, you may not know how to get the proverbial ball rolling, or even open up such a discussion with your loved one. Where do you even begin? 

Thankfully, there are tips, guides, and info to help families and caregivers broach this often touchy subject with their loved ones—to ensure the conversation is productive and proactive. 

Here is a helpful guide, developed by The Hartford Center for Mature Market Excellence® in conjunction with the MIT AgeLab. You can even download and print it out for easy reference, and to help plan for your discussion with your loved one. 

Even if you and the rest of your family stand firm in your decision that your loved one is no longer safe behind the wheel, it’s important to involve them in the dialogue. 

People with dementia often feel as if their life is happening to them, with decisions being made FOR rather than WITH them. This can be a huge detriment to a person’s overall quality of life. 

Sometimes, a progressive approach to this transition can be a helpful strategy—designed to gradually ease your loved one out of driving, rather than taking their keys away all at once. 

Regardless of what your family decides is right for you, the decision to stop driving is complex and multifaceted. It will require you to work with your loved one to develop alternate solutions to their ongoing transportation needs. 

You can check out our recent article, detailing many alternative transportation options, to help you plan for and overcome any obstacles you face. 

It’s important to remember—even though you always have your loved one’s best interests at heart, they may still struggle with the transition away from driving. This is normal. 

While these discussions may be difficult to have—they’re crucial to ensure everyone in your family is on the same page and that your loved one knows you’re truly focused on their wellbeing. Together, you will find the right balance between their independence and safety. 

At WayWiser, we’re passionate about exploring and supporting you in the issues that matter in your life. Visit our Word To The Wise blog regularly for excellent insight and info about a range of key issues—focused especially on older adults and their loved ones. 

Have another question? Ask an expert.

Our team is here for you. If you have a question about caring for an older adult or other member of your family—be it physical, legal, medical, financial, or anything in between—we’ll have one of our Trusted Advisors get back to you ASAP.

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